Description & History

The Old English Sheepdog is believed to have developed in the south and west of England, and is thought to be descended mainly from the Bearded Collie. It also seems likely that the Russian Owtchar and the French Briard - both similar to the Old English Sheepdog - may have played some part in its ancestry. For hundreds of years, before the introduction of the quarantine regulations, dogs from continental Europe and Russia were known to have been introduced into the British Isles, so it is possible that these two breeds were involved in the development of the Old English Sheepdog.

The breed as we know it today has existed since the early part of the nineteenth century. For centuries they were used as guard dogs on the farms and by drovers while driving both cattle and sheep to market.

In England in 1796 the taxation of dogs was imposed. At that time the amount of tax paid varied according to the type of dog. By 1878 the rate was fixed at seven shillings and sixpence and applied to all dogs except sheepdogs - they were exempt provided they had no tails. This probably led to the custom of docking, which over the years has had far-reaching consequences. It is quite possible that from this practice the name 'Bobtail’, the other name for the breed, originated.

An interesting characteristic of the breed is its ambling gait. This free movement is brought about by both legs on the same side moving concurrently.

Nowadays the breed is no longer a working dog but is popular in the show ring. In 1873 the breed was shown for the first time at the great Birmingham Show, and in 1888 the first breed club was founded.

Its popularity is no doubt also due to the fact that it is used, like one or two other disctinctive breeds, for advertising in the press and on British television.

The Old English Sheepdog was once and still is an active breed, and therefore is best suited to a country life where it has the opportunity to gallop freely on its daily walks.

Rosamund Walters.

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